How can social psychology contribute to discussions about cultural diversity?

From what you have learned so far in Block 2 and in the module in general, how do you think social psychology might be able to contribute to contemporary discussions about cultural diversity?

The term ‘cultural diversity’ assumes that there is something called culture, and that there can be multiple cultures at once, which are somehow in proximity to each other.

First then, i want to ask what a single “culture” is. The difficulty is that culture is quite a vague term, meaning different things depending on the discipline, or setting, in which it is invoked.

We saw earlier that for social psychology, culture can be understood as:

“[a] more or less systematically related set of constructions that people share as members of an enduring, communicatively interacting social group.”
(Fiske, 1996)

And furthermore as:

“what people learn and use by virtue of participating in a social system and what links people together so as to constitute that social system.”
(Fiske, 1996)

In the first sense then, it is a systematic “set of constructions” produced by people communicating together over a significant duration of time. In a second sense “culture” also describes whatever it is that links these people together in a social system.

Importantly, both theses senses imply a coherency, or systematicity that enables a constellation of people, and the identities, values, actions, customs, tools, objects, and symbols, which forms the content of their interaction, to be understood as a unified thing – a single culture.

However, the answer of what this systematicity is, varies considerbaly. It could be a mode of production – such as capitalism, a nation-state and it’s mode of governance, or an ecosystem. It could simply be defined as a living fiction, a set of symbols and cultural interactions. One important distinction, is between a culture and a society – are these different? The next is between “culture” and “nature”, and yet again between “culture” and “reality”.

This last one – culture/reality – is drawn out above. Is a culture an “imagined community”, in the sense that it is an aggregate or hegemonic self-representation of a group’s subjective “world” – a world construct? Or is a culture a system of objective dynamics, that regardless of, and including it’s self narrative, combines to produce certain subjectivities, ideas, rituals, values etc.

 

From the above, it is apparent that social psychology might have something to bear on these questions. What is a culture? How is culture “constructed” as a concept, depending on the different social psychological methods, objects, orientations?

Social psychology tends to study the “reciprocal influence of the individual and [their] social context” (Hewstone and Manstead, 1996). It seems to me the word “culture” describe (often in aesthetic terms) a coherent body of these reciprocal influences. Social psychology uses empirical methods to study the relation between individual and social, with particular attention to “psychological” phenomena, for example – attitudes, beliefs, ideas, identity, behaviours. It seeks to theorise how these phenomena are produced by relationships between one individual and another, groups, and/or their environments.  Thus social psychology can bring these insights to bear on our understanding of a culture. If there is such a thing as cultural diversity, then these social psychological theories can be used to ascertian what defines their distinction, and in what ways they are similar.

Fiske, A. P. (1996). Culture. In The Blackwell Encyclopedia of Social Psychology [Online], Blackwell Publishing. Available at the OU Library online.

 

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